Derek was a semester student with MEI International Academy in 2007. He has since returned in 2015 as a Lead Teacher and Course Developer, taking students to Central America, Asia, Australia, and Europe.
What is your favorite travel memory?
My favorite travel memory is hiking into the heart of an extinct volcano in Costa Rica where a small rainwater lagoon has formed. The trek to reach these calm, bright turquoise waters took our class through a thick rainforest with a narrow trail to the rim of the volcano which we climbed down. We were rewarded with a cool swim and an opportunity to truly enjoy the beauty of the natural world around us. Through the canopy a few kilometers away, you can see the active Arenal Volcano.
The Backpackers: Central America program is full of adventures like this, which keeps me coming back!
How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?
One of the key skills that I've learned and continued to build while working for MEI is the ability to be adaptable. You can plan a trip down to the minute, though inevitably, there will be surprises. Whether the weather quickly changes during lecture, or a heavy rainy season has washed out your favorite hiking trail, or a subway stop that you planned to meet at is closed - there's always something.
Being adaptable is key to a successful trip so that you are always ready for the next hurdle!
What is the best story you've heard from a return student?
For me, the relationships are a defining feature of these experiences. When we hear about students that became close friends years after coming with us, it shows that the experience lasts much longer than 35, 50, or 80 days.
Our students have gone on to be university roommates, in each other's wedding parties, or as business partners. The longevity of these relationships is hard to duplicate in any other setting. I’m still very close to students I was peers with 11 years ago and we constantly hear stories about our students staying in touch and reconnecting all over the world!
If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?
It's hard to beat the Adventure Down Under Program. Although I've never taught it in the summer, I have been in the same locations that it visits while teaching on the Fall Semester. I have always had a passion for sports, fitness, and healthy active living. Writing your exams in Fiji? That part always perks an ear or two!
What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?
MEI Academy is unique in its mentorship. As teachers, we are working out with students in the morning, sweating alongside them. When we ask them to write a piece of creative writing, we step up and perform a piece too! We walk the talk.
We also have a teacher-student ratio of 10:1 or less, which gives us the opportunity to get to know students in ways that they don't typically experience in a regular school and give them more focused attention on their abilities, goals, and vulnerabilities.
That's why I first got excited as a student and that's what I try to bring to my practice every time I board the plane for a new program.
What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?
Word of mouth has sustained MEI over the years. There is no doubt in my mind that our alumni have been a big part of our success. I heard about these programs through friends and the longer I do this the more often I hear that students came because of a sister, a cousin, a classmate, etc.
The fact that we have been fortunate enough to have so many endorsements goes to show that these programs can be life-changing experiences that will help students grow as they approach the transition between high school and their post-secondary goals.